In the wake of a tough period for Mitt Romney, various Republican candidates for a number of offices are suddenly finding themselves in increased danger. Consider the Senate.
In Wisconsin, former
governor Tommy Thompson seemed to have a strong advantage. Now, many
analysts rate this race---which could have been a straightforward pick-up---as a
toss-up. George Allen is struggling against Tim Kaine in Virginia for
another seat held by a retiring Democrat (Jim Webb). Missouri, which should
have been an easy pick-up, now has edged closer into the Democratic
column due to some of Todd Akin's statements (gaffes sometimes do matter
Republican Senate incumbents have also faced a troubling wave of
polling. In Massachusetts, Scott Brown's edge against Elizabeth Warren
has slipped a little. Nevada's Dean Heller's significant polling lead
has now slipped to a point or two; a Rasmussen survey in July found him leading by nine points, but a more recent Rasmussen survey has him down to one point.
At the beginning of the year, when President Obama was viewed as
being more vulnerable, Republicans had a better-than-even shot of taking
the Senate. Now, RealClearPolitics
finds only 43 Republican "safe" or lean Senate seats with 9 toss-ups.
So Republicans would have to win at least 7 of 9 toss-ups in order to
have a chance of taking the Senate (and that's only if Romney wins in
the general). The House tells a somewhat similar story. Obviously,
Republicans have a much better chance of holding the House than they do
of taking the Senate. But, as Bill Kristol notes,
some recent polls have shown Democrats with a lead on the generic
ballot (even Rasmussen's generic ballot polling gives Republicans a thin one-point lead). Such a polling lead does not always translate to a majority in
the House, but it does suggest possible dangers for the Republican
The upshot of all of this is that Congressional Republicans might
have a hard time decoupling their fates from that of Mitt Romney. As
Romney has slipped in the general election season, various candidates
have also seen an increase in the weights holding down their electoral
Salon's Steve Kornacki
and others have highlighted the following danger for Romney: that
Beltway Republicans and other activists will view him as a lost cause,
thereby jumping ship to focus on statewide and local races. Kornacki
reminds us that such an Operation Overboard occurred during Bob Dole's
1996 campaign against Bill Clinton. At least a couple factors would
suggest that this kind of abandonment would be unlikely to occur this
time. Romney is in a much stronger position against Obama than Dole was
against Clinton, and Clinton had more bright spots to his record than
the current president.
With things as close as they are on the presidential level, it would
likely be counterproductive for various activist groups to turn their
backs on Romney to focus on statewide races. The weaker Romney seems on
the top of the ticket, the more hurdles down-ticket candidates are
likely to face. Or, the stronger Romney is, the stronger many other
Republican candidates will likely be.
So many Republicans are in the same electoral boat this year.
Abandoning ship could simply leave Congressional candidates thrashing in
the water, further
from their electoral destinations than ever, as the waves slowly send
The good news for Republicans is that the
presidential race is still very winnable. The Romney campaign's renewed
focus on economic restoration---one edging toward offering economic
solutions---could change the electoral dynamic in Romney's favor. An
affirmative, realistic plan for growth and renewal could become a vessel
to carry Romney and other Republicans to the shore of victory.
(I acknowledge that many conservatives have expressed some skepticism about recent polling, but even polls put out by conservative-leaning organizations do not show a substantial lead for Romney---or even a lead at all. The most recent FOX News poll had Obama up by 5. Polling is not an exact science, so there are very likely errors in these polls. But Republicans should not fool themselves: this will be a hard-fought campaign over the next few weeks.)